Extreme Eating: Time Gets Silly with Anti-Local Food


Photo credit: Jungle Jim's International Market

Perhaps it was bound to happen: though Time magazine trumpeted "Forget Organic. Eat Local" last year, columnist Joel Stein throws pie in the face of Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma of figuring out what to eat and how to get it locally. Stein, with tongue at least partially in cheek (we hope), posits that "the idea that this [eating locally] is the best way to eat, that most of our food should really come from within 100 miles, that farm-to-table produces a superior diet, is antiglobalization idiocy."

How does he figure? "Eating in the 21st century is part travel, part cultural mash-up...I want the world to come to me, to see it shrink so small it fits on my plate. I want Maine lobster in broth flavored with Spanish saffron. I want Alaskan salmon, truffles from Europe, a bottle of Beaujolais, a damn pineapple." To "prove" that this is better than Pollan's eat-local ethic, Stein decides to cook a meal with ingredients that all came from further than 3,000 miles away from his Los Angeles home. While it's possible to do so, it proved an interesting exercise when it came time to go shopping.Stein, in an attempt "to completely give the finger to the locavores," bought the meal at his local Whole Foods Market, the poster child for the mainstreaming of the local food movement. And you know what? "This, it turned out, was not an easy task. Farmers in Southern California, it seems, can grow anything." Ha!

Those of you familiar with Stein's previous work know that his brand of smarmy sarcasm -- often reserved for making fun on celebrities on VH1 or something -- hops around between sincerity, self-deprecation and stubborn myopia as he attempts to put his finger on the culture's pulse. Despite all of this, his venture in the hedonistic "distavore" meal gets a few things patently wrong.

Tom Philpott, writing in Gristmill discusses the agro-political implications of the story at length, so we'll pass on that for now and skip to the end, where Stein says, "The local-food movement is deeply Luddite, part of the green lobby that measures improvement by self-denial more than by actual impact -- considering shipping food in containers is often more energy-efficient than a local farmer trucking small amounts that are then purchased on a separate weekend farmers'-market trip you take in your SUV."

Eating local -- and being green, for that matter -- certainly does not have to include self-denial. Enjoying food from you local foodshed is a celebration of your regional cuisine, an opportunity to look at what's on your plate or in your glass and say, "Yum; you just can't get this everywhere." It's the ability to embrace what comes from your neck of the woods, and be proud of it. More than anything, it's a lifestyle that encourages thoughtful reflection on what it took to get your meal to the table, and the satisfaction that accompanies eating food that you got from somebody you know. If you're driving your SUV to the farmer's market to buy one item, as Stein mentions, you're missing the point.

So, yeah, eating farm-to-table is becoming more popular, but, all of Stein's silliness aside, shouldn't be looked at as an act of sacrifice. Celebrate it, revel in its surprising, mercurial variance and make it your own. You won't miss that Peruvian asparagus a bit. ::Time via ::Gristmill and ::Gristmill.

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